Former culinary school has the right mix of ingredients for law firm
L’Ecole Culinaire, the now-shuttered chef training school, was known as much for its culinary programs as it was for the high visibility of its two buildings on I-64 in Ladue.
More than 150,000 commuters saw the prominent name with the chef’s hat logo on the side of one of the buildings every day for at least a decade.
Now a new tenant is moving into the building at 9807 South 40 Drive where culinary students prepared and served meals for the public. Stephen Schultz, co-founder of personal injury law firm Schultz & Myers, is thrilled to have his company name on a building that will be seen by so many people. He has billboards all over town, and visibility of the I-64 building will act as a permanent billboard for many years to come.
“It’s nice to have that brand awareness when people drive by on 40,” says Schultz. “I tell people we’re now in the L’Ecole Culinaire building and they say ‘oh yeah.’ They know right where it is.”
The former school operated by Vatterott College occupied two buildings next to each other on South 40 Drive. Schultz & Myers is moving into the smaller of the two this month and will welcome clients to their offices beginning on July 1.
St. Louis Bank moved into the larger L’Ecole building in April 2020. Hilliker agents Jeff Altvater and Rebecca Thessen handled both transactions on behalf of the owner, Southwestern Enterprises, Inc.
Outgrowing Their Office Space
Schultz and the firm’s co-founder, Josh Myers, decided to make the move from their Creve Coeur location off Olive Boulevard when their lease expired last year. They had outgrown the space and were looking for an alternative. They signed a lease for a property at Manchester Road and I-270, but the deal fell through.
“We were in a pinch,” Schultz said.
They learned of the South 40 building and things began to fall into place.
Hilliker’s Thessen said the building required a lot of work.
“Schultz & Myers could visualize the space and see past the small offices and the commercial kitchen. They recognized the value of visibility on Highway 40, and they liked the building’s ample parking lot,” she said.
Schultz said his contractor, Hensley Construction, knocked the space down to an empty shell.
“Every office, every ceiling tile, every carpet was removed. Everything down to the HVAC is brand new. The roof and brick are the only old parts,” he said.
JEMA Architects handled the design work, including selecting colors and specifying appliances.
While most law offices are formal, with dark woods and upholstery, Schultz wanted a different feel.
“We wanted a lot of glass to let light in, to have an open, collaborative, bright space,” he says.
Schultz describes the design as modern, infusing gray interiors with chrome and glass. He said the renovation will come in at between $400,000 and $500,000, not including furnishings. They were willing to “go all out and spend the money” because they signed a long-term lease, he says.
A Meeting of the Minds
“This was my first time doing a full building lease, really planning for the future. It was actually a lot easier than previous leases we signed,” Schultz said, adding that Louis Cella, president of Southwestern Enterprises, Inc., which owns the building, was very accommodating.
Cella said both parties were motivated to get the deal done.
“They were looking for a new home and we were looking for new tenant. They’re lawyers, they can look at contracts quickly. There was a meeting of the minds, so it was quick,” Cella said. “It’s always a relief when you have an empty building for a period of time and you get it leased.”
Vatterott College went out of business in late 2018, immediately closing all campuses in several states, including L’Ecole Culinaire. The two buildings in Ladue went into receivership, during which time Cella could not lease the properties to anyone else.
“We were handcuffed with both buildings. Those are frustrating times for a landlord,” Cella said. “But the future looks quite bright for the office center – we have Hackett Security, St. Louis Bank, and now Schultz & Myers. They were looking to expand and relocate to a very visible location. They have a wonderful view on Highway 40. It’s an awesome opportunity to be in heart of Ladue and on the highway.”
Schultz & Myers has six full-time lawyers and 10 support staff. The move to South 40 Drive doubled their space, to 7,312 square feet. Schultz said they’re already 75 percent occupied.
The firm handles 500 to 650 cases per year, mostly serving people injured or killed in car and trucking accidents. A small portion of their business involves workers’ compensation cases. They also have offices in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Chicago.
Schultz said that although employees have been working from home because of the pandemic, he never considered operating as a remote business. “Mediations and depositions on Zoom are just not as effective,” he said.
The firm looks forward to seeing clients again in person in July. They have plenty of space to accommodate meetings, with large and small conference rooms. The space also features two paralegal bullpens inclusive of 12 workstations.
For his part, Cella is optimistic about the future.
“Everyone’s been so ho hum and now people can get out of their basements and go back to the office,” he said. “The economy is picking up steam, Covid is behind us, and Schultz & Myers has a wonderful new home.”